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Students create peer mentoring program

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Jack Benson (‘18) and Bethany Larson (‘19) create a  peer mentoring program.

Jack Benson (‘18) and Bethany Larson (‘19) create a peer mentoring program.

Shannon Baker (‘20)| Chips

Shannon Baker (‘20)| Chips

Jack Benson (‘18) and Bethany Larson (‘19) create a peer mentoring program.

Shannon Baker, Staff Writer

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Hoping to help first year students adjusting to college, Jack Benson (‘18) and Bethany Larson (‘19) plan to start a program in fall 2017 in which upper-class students can partner with and mentor incoming first-year students.

The goal of the peer-mentoring program stems from a January term class taught by Registrar and Assistant to the Dean for Advising Kristin Swanson and Associate Dean and Director of Faculty Development Jeffrey Wilkerson. The class, “Finding a Fit in the World,” focused on personal reflection, growth, and how to consider those values in the context of education. At the end of the course, students participated in peer-mentoring groups with first-year students by meeting with their groups, doing fun activities, getting to know each other, and then following up with one another in the months. Benson and Larson are interested in building on what they learned during their January class to form a recognized organization that would help new students adjust to life at Luther.

“We want to make [Luther feel] like home for students that are coming in,” Benson said. “We don’t [want] students leaving because they feel like this isn’t the right place for them,” Benson said.

Right now, Benson and Larson hope that the program will include about 20 upper-class mentors, with about four first-year mentees per mentor. However, even though the program will be primarily geared towards first-year students, Larson believes the program would benefit transfer students as well.

“Transfer students could be involved regardless of their age because [although] they know the college experience, they don’t know how it is specific to Luther,” Larson said. “We want to make sure they understand all of the opportunities that Luther has to offer.”

With the concept of a peer-mentoring group, Benson and Larson are considering different ways to implement their plan. One option they are considering is coordinating the program within the existing Paideia curriculum, which would involve assigning a few mentors to each Paideia class. Another viable alternative is establishing the program as a new student organization for first-years and upperclassmen. Whichever option they choose, Benson and Larson are eager to implement their program with the help of Vice President and Dean for Student Life Corey Landstrom.   

“We want to test the waters to see if it works,”  Benson said. “Corey Landstrom has done similar programs at other colleges he’s worked at before he started here, and that’s why he wants to help us [start the program].”

As part of their plan, Benson and Larson hope the program will allow one-on-one mentoring relationships between mentors and mentees, with a few large-group meetings during the year to foster more connections and facilitate a community environment. At the large-group meetings, the two leaders plan on addressing typical problems first-year students find daunting during their first semester such as coping with stress and studying for finals.

Larson wants to emphasize the group’s distinction between mentoring and tutoring.

“We are pretty sure [the group] would lean more towards the social aspect because we’re not tutors,” Larson said. “We want to help more with [students] getting involved with Luther, or if they do need that academic help, who they can talk to about it.”

Benson and Larson are still in the process of launching their program and plan on working on their ideas throughout the summer  in order to implement a pilot program this fall. To spread the word, the duo wants to reach out to existing organizations for support without detracting from membership in those organizations. They also plan on tabling outside the cafeteria, creating a group on Facebook, and going into first-year classes to inform students about the group.

Larson hopes the group will be a way for students to alleviate their stress instead of adding to the chaos of college life.

“Our program [would not be] a requirement,” Larson said. “We want to make an environment that is open so that [students] really want to come to [their] mentoring session.”

According to Benson, the peer mentoring group will be beneficial for all involved.

“We want to create a learning environment for everybody so that they feel like they’re going to grow,” Benson said. “It’s not just for the mentees to grow, but for the mentors to grow as well. This way, everybody feels valued.”

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